Starting in 1988 with just five students, Andover’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) has grown considerably to become a full-fledged student organization that meets weekly and draws strength from a vast body of alumni. Although the club has changed in size and structure, its underlying mission has remained the same: to support LGBTQ students at Andover. With just under 87 percent of the student body identifying as straight in last year’s State of the Academy survey, the LGBTQ population at Andover has certainly expanded. Despite being arguably more empowered than ever before, this demographic still faces undeniable challenges on campus and in the larger world. GSA@25, which marked the group’s 25th year this past weekend, served as both a recognition of this group’s struggles and a celebration of their accomplishments.
Augustin McCarthy ’88 returned to campus for GSA @25
**Addison Exhibit Showcases LGBTQ Artwork**
Alumni and community members gathered at the Addison Gallery of American Art to see, hear and discuss artwork by a number of LGBTQ artists, such as George Tooker, David Armstrong, Nan Goldin, Mark Morrisroe and David Wojnarowicz. Armstrong, Goldin and Morrisroe, met at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA), Boston, where they studied together.
At the beginning of the event, the attendees were asked to stand up and observe the various pieces of art, largely comprised of real-life photographs. Some took notes while others simply appreciated the sincerity and authenticity of the photographs.
Each piece of art represented various relevant issues and themes pertaining to the artists’ daily struggles of being part of the LGBTQ community. Two of Goldin’s photographs, for example, depicted drag queens that were not made up, but rather natural.
After the actual discussion, the group sat down to listen to the poetic works of Nancy Boutilier, former Instructor in English at Andover. She recited three poems from her published works, including “On The Eighth Day Slept Hall” and “According to Her Contours.” Gender identity and sexual confusion were underlying themes in all three poems.
The audience also ventured upstairs to see “The Kids Are Alright,” a current exhibition at the Addison that examines all forms of family in the 21st century. Thirty-eight artists’ works are on display, and Rebecca Hayes, Curator of Education at the Addison, had selected three artists to focus on from the LGBTQ community. Julie Mack, Catherine Opie and Betsy Schneider attempted to realistically portray the struggles of their lifestyles as gay women in the artistic community.
“The discussion was very deep, very interesting and touching, and when people were making connections that I hadn’t even considered, I realized that there was so much behind every single person and their story that I don’t even know,” said Paulina Munn ’15.
Students and faculty members march together to show their pride.
**First Pride Parade Celebrates GSA’s 25th Year**
Carrying rainbow banners and wearing brightly colored clothing and necklaces, over sixty students, faculty and alumni paraded around campus to honor the 25th anniversary of the founding of GSA at Andover, to the rhythms of Drumline, Andover’s student-run percussion group,
“It’s the 25th anniversary of our GSA conference and of our GSA, so we wanted to make it a monumental event. We’ve never had a gay pride parade before in the history of Andover, so we thought that [the parade] would be an adequate way to really solidify the legacy of this GSA and make it memorable,” said Malina Simard-Halm ’14, Co-President of GSA.
As the parade passed through the Great Lawn and onto the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall, numerous spectators came to watch.
“Gay pride parades have been around since the early 80s in this country, and now they’re kind of a universal phenomenon. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a parade [on campus] that is fun, very colorful, with beads and celebration and cheering?’” said Peg Harrigan, Instructor in Art and Faculty Advisor to GSA.
“I’d hope that we might start doing [gay pride parades] as part of our [GSA] weekend every fall and acknowledge not just GSA, gay pride or how we fit into the bigger world in terms of the diversity of sexual orientation, but celebrate it in a demonstrative, colorful way,” Harrigan said.
In addition to raising awareness about and celebrating GSA, the gay pride parade also demonstrated how much GSA has grown since it was founded.
Hanover Vale ’15, a GSA board member, said, “We’ve extended so far that we can have over 60 people show up for a parade, so it’s amazing to see the development [of GSA] over the span of 25 years. On campus, we have this sort of attitude and mentality that says ‘We’re out. We’re proud,’ and it’s great.”
Student panelists meet for a discussion of the GSA community on campus.
**Alumni Share Stories of Bravery**
In 1987, Agustin McCarthy ’88 stood up at All School Meeting (ASM) and announced that he was gay. He then committed himself to creating an environment where people of all sexuality were respected, laying the foundation for the official establishment of the Gay Straight Alliance in 1989, now known as the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA).
McCarthy, Barbara Dalton Rotundo ’00, Annie Wilkin ’05, Kevin Hatcher ’05, Hector Kilgoe ’11 and Nancy Boutilier, former Instructor in English, returned to campus to share their journeys in discovering and becoming comfortable with their own sexual orientations.
“Being gay meant being visibly different when I was on campus,” said McCarthy, reflecting back to his time at Andover when GSA had about five student members. Since that point, however, Andover’s LGBTQ community has grown considerably, becoming more accepting of various sexual orientations.
In 1999, Rotundo gave a speech about the meaning of bisexuality during an All School Meeting, coming out as bisexual to the entire school.
“It is a real statement about [Andover] and where it was in the late 90s that the scariest thing about doing that was the public speaking part. I was not at all afraid coming out that I was bisexual. I could have been saying anything, and it would have been just as terrifying,” said Rotundo.
Rotundo said that the presence of the GSA helped foster the accepting environment of people of all sexual identities.
“The fact that GSA was there on campus, even before I came out during my Senior year, helped me feel much more comfortable about my sexuality. This environment, though not perfect, is a place where people are constantly trying to have a dialogue about difficult things, including sexuality,” Rotundo continued.
Kilgoe found refuge in not only GSA, but also the larger LGBTQ community at Andover as he struggled to become comfortable with his sexual orientation. Now a student the University of Pennsylvania, he is a member of the Queer People of Color group.
“Even at Andover, I dealt with lots of homophobia that wasn’t directed at me. People would talk a lot about other gay students in front of me, and I was expected to just join into those things because they didn’t think that I was gay. But I had this huge support group, GSA, that I could always go to,” Kilgoe said.
Boutilier agreed, saying that she and her group of friends were able to power through both conscious and subconscious discrimination from students with their sense of community as queers.
While some speakers talked about their personal Andover experiences, others focused more on how their sexual identities affected their career choices.
Hatcher previously worked with queer youth of color in Atlanta, drawing from his own struggles as a gay black man. He is currently working with over 80 low-income schools through Teach for America, helping them provide better education for underprivileged youth.
“I’m really proud to say that I am leading [the organization’s] thinking on how to expand the definition of diversity beyond race and socioeconomic background. The organization… is really starting to push the boundaries to think about how to support queer kids overcome bullying and homophobia,” Hatcher said.
As a teacher, Wilkin also incorporates her own experiences as a bisexual person into her lessons, striving to create a classroom environment where sexuality can be discussed openly yet respectfully and sensitively.
She hopes to expand beyond her own practices and educate other teachers on how to also create a similar classroom environment that is comfortable for people of all sexual orientations.
Film Showings Explore Past On Saturday, two visiting artists presented their films that explored their relationships with the people closest to them and how they influenced their personal sense of expression. Each artist used a different medium to portray past experiences, but all conveyed the same message: beauty and strength are often intertwined.
Mickalene Thomas, a native of Brooklyn, New York, presented her short documentary, “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman.” Produced by Thomas and Tanya Selvaratnam ’88, the documentary focused on Thomas’s mother, Sandra Bush.
Striking deep reds, purples and emeralds set the background to Bush’s powerful retelling of her life experiences to Thomas. At 6’1”, Bush was a statuesque runway model. Despite her physical beauty, she faced the emotional turmoil of domestic abuse and drug addiction. Bush persevered, eventually overcoming her drug addiction and staying healthy up until the filming of the documentary.
“What inspired me to make this specific piece was that my mother was dying,” Thomas said. “I said to her, ‘If I could find a way to use you in my work again, with a different medium’—I didn’t want to photograph her while she was sick.”
“I thought the film was very good and that the creator’s relationship to the subject helped it make even more special. The soundtrack was amazing because it added to the dimension of the film,” said Kasey Welch ’16 in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
Following Thomas’s presentation was a multimedia reading and dance performance entitled “Life on the Moon: Taking Action in Times of Fear,” written by Agustin McCarthy ’88. McCarthy, who co-founded GSA during his time at Andover, wrote a script that reflected the experiences he had as a teenager. The script was read aloud by guest actors and members of GSA, aided by projections and instrumental music.
McCarthy’s creation featured a fictional protagonist, Riley Davis, who is an openly gay teenager attempting to start a GSA Club at Andover. His sister, Gwen, does not approve, and asks him to just be “normal.” Despite backlash, he continues to develop his identity as a gay individual and even expresses himself through the art of ballet.
Nancy Boutilier, a former Instructor in English, was the faculty advisor when McCarthy began GSA and saw clear lines between the fictional film and the genesis of GSA here.
“When we started the GSA, we were thinking about creating a place where people could survive at Andover. It’s really exciting that GSA allows people to thrive at Andover,” she said.
**Simard-Halm Finds Personal Threads in LGBTQ Research**
Growing up, Malina Simard-Halm ’14 occasionally felt extremely self-conscious of her gay parents. At one point, she even kept their sexuality a secret from her friends.
“When I was younger, I thought it was okay to push my parents in the closet whenever it was convenient for me. That really silenced me,” she said.
Simard-Halm investigated the effects of LGBTQ parents on families like hers, using interviews she conducted with 30 children of LGBTQ parents and secondary research papers for her presentation last Saturday.
“It was so incredible to do this research because a lot of the time I felt alone when I was younger,” Simard-Halm said in her presentation.
Simard-Halm was one of the first five children in the United States born to gay parents through a surrogate mother, and her parents were the first gay parents in the country to win the right to have both of their names on their child’s birth certificate, according to “The Guardian.”
Fearing judgment, many of the children with LGBTQ parents she interviewed chose not to tell other people about their parents, Simard-Halm said.
One of Simard-Halm’s interviewees, Lizzie Hurley, saw her parents excommunicated from their church as a result of their sexuality.
“Generally, no one really talks about it, but I can certainly feel the tensions from some of the parents. One time, my family wanted to host an exchange student from Mexico, and the school wouldn’t allow it,” said Hurley in an interview with Simard-Halm.
Though LGBTQ families live in 93 percent of American counties, many state governments do not recognize families with two parents of the same sex.
LGBTQ families are twice as likely to live in poverty, as they often fail to meet government requirements on the definition of a family and therefore are unable to receive benefits such as tax cuts and government-funded programs like welfare or disability benefits, according to Simard-Halm.
“Yes, there are still struggles, but there are powerful people fighting,” said Simard-Halm during her presentation.
Simard-Halm discovered contradicting results in studies of children of LGBTQ parents, as studies funded by socially conservative institutions said that children of LGBTQ parents were more likely to be gay and suicidal.
However, those studies were not peer-reviewed, and more robust research indicates that there is little to no difference between children of LGBTQ and straight parents, though children of LGBTQ parents tend to be more open about their sexuality, she said.
“I recognize how powerful and pioneering my parents were and they were breaking boundaries and setting a path and stage for other parents to follow,” said Simard-Halm during her presentation.
Parade participants fold their colored flags.
**Students Act as LGBTQ Leaders on Campus**
GSA hosted a student panel to explore the ramifications of LGBTQ identity at Andover in Kemper Auditorium last Saturday.
Panelists Jaleel Williams ’15, Harry Wright ’14, Sean Burkitt ’14, Alyssa Augustin ’15, Hanover Vale ’15, all board members of GSA, and Kai Kornegay ’14, Co-President of GSA, answered student and alumni-submitted questions alongside their own experiences as LGBTQ students. Malina Simard-Halm ’14, Co-President of GSA, moderated the panel discussion.
“It was just an update on what’s changed [in the past 25 years], how the GSA is doing on campus, what life is currently like for LGBTQ students as of now,” said Williams in an interview with The Phillipian.
Augustin, along with several other panelists, described students’ roles in the greater community as LGBTQ leaders as an expression of “non sibi” in their daily lives.
“I try to be as expressive as possible, so that other people can recognize and look up to you, and also, I do like answering questions. Besides GSA, there isn’t much public education about LGBTQ people, so [I try to help] when my friends do have questions. Someone called me an LGBTQ encyclopedia. I like to try to be that person,” said Augustin during the panel.
Like Augustin, Wright mentioned how he tries to lead dorm discussions on LGBTQ issues and serve as a mentor to the students in his dorm.
“Last year, one of the students in my dorm came out to me and not to anybody else. I was really happy for him to do that and that he was comfortable enough with me and that I could be a resource for them… It’s great to be out and to be a leader on campus, just to be visible to everybody,” said Wright.
In addition to their roles in the community, the panelists noted the differences between coming out at Andover and at home.
“I’m actually very thankful for Andover for allowing me sort of like a cushion in which I can express myself and build up self-confidence,” said Williams during the panel. “When I go home, I will wear shorts that are not nearly as short as the ones I wear here, and I’ll still get weird looks or comments from my home friends.”
“I’ve built up a strong enough reserve from being on campus that I feel like I can go out into the real world. I feel like I won’t need as much external support or self-confidence later on, since I already have it,” Williams continued.
Though Andover fosters an open and understanding environment for LGBTQ students, Kornegay argued that the school administration still needed to more comfortable in acknowledging that students are sexually active.
“Once [the school] acknowledges [students’ sexual activity], then there might be reform on the parietal system or the hook up culture, because right now, it’s sort of taboo… So because we’re not even talking about this in a heteronormative sense, then we’re not going to talk about it in a LGBTQ sense,” said Kornegay.